Buried within a FAQ on EA’s website is confirmation that the PC version of FIFA 21 is the same as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version – a revelation that has tempered excitement about the series coming to Steam for the first time.
PC gamers – some so in disbelief at the news that they thought it a mistake – were left scratching their heads at the decision. Why would EA Sports not release a version of FIFA 21 on PC that is on par with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X version of the hugely popular football game?
I asked EA for an explanation following the news and have yet to receive a response. Without a explanation, we’re left to speculate. But first, let’s run through what EA has said about the next-gen versions of the game.
Unfortunately, EA hasn’t said much that’s meaningful about FIFA 21 on PS5 and Xbox Series X. It’s language to describe the game is at best vague, at worst eye-rolling marketing gobbledegook.
Controller haptics mean you can “sense” the impact of shots, passes, catches, kicks and tackles. “A new DualSense controller on PlayStation 5 with rich and responsive haptic feedback deepens the gameplay experience letting you feel the rhythm of the game in your hands.”
Then there are the “blazing fast load times”, which EA said means you will get into the game quicker than ever. But what does this actually mean? “Never lose focus as stadium environments will load with unprecedented speed, letting you get to the kick-off in seconds,” EA said.
There’s deferred lighting and rendering, too. “Authentic new environments, unlocked by a new deferred lighting system create ultra-realistic football experiences and player fidelity, enhancing the game in every part of the stadium.”
Expect “reimagined player bodies”. “Next-gen technology creates deeper definition in player physiques, while dynamic lighting accentuates details such as faces, hair, kits, and uniforms to take athletes to a whole new level of realism.”
The more we go on, the vaguer things get: “Enhanced animation technology in FIFA enables you to experience ultra-responsive and realistic player movement,” EA said.
Here’s my favourite note about next-gen FIFA 21: “Off-ball humanisation.” “From adjusting shin pads in the 89th minute to screaming for passes in the endzone, player humanisation unlocks the most authentic character behaviours ever seen in sports video games letting you see the detail and feel all the emotion of football at the highest level.”
And finally, there’s “gameday immersion”. “New contextual player, bench, and fan reactions let you feel the explosive passion of a last-minute winner or a game-clinching touchdown. And pre-game cinematics deliver an unprecedented matchday experience to immerse you in the sights and sounds of professional football.”
That’s a lot to take in, but is any of this guff impossible on PC? I don’t think so. So, time for some speculation. I suspect this is a pretty simple business decision. It’s probably easier for EA to scale FIFA 21 to lower-spec machines than it is to machines that are on-par with, for example, a PS5. As our friends at Digital Foundry have talked about, the next-gen consoles set a new bar. It’s far more likely that it just makes more sense for EA to release FIFA 21 on PC as the current-gen versions, given the bulk of PC FIFA users are probably playing on an old, or medium-power PC.
Whatever the reason, some FIFA PC users feel aggrieved. I’ve seen numerous posts on social media and the various FIFA subreddits from PC players complaining that their high-powered rigs won’t be put to good use, that they won’t get the fancy new tech that’s in the next-gen console versions.
Summing up the sentiment, redditor tromelow said: “I’d leave a comment here but I need to pre-order the ultimate edition of the outdated FIFA 21 version for the most powerful console out there (PC).”
It’s worth noting there are some who perhaps understand EA’s thinking (if indeed we’re on the right track on that). “What per cent of PC gamers have a PC that is the equivalent of a 3700X/2080 Super?” asked redditor b417 this week. “People assume every PC gamer has a 64 core CPU with a Titan RTX, when in reality most people have pretty modest systems.
“It’s going to take a short while for the average PC to catch up to the next-gen systems.”
It’s also worth noting that EA has done this before. FIFA on PC lagged behind the console versions when it came to features and even the game engine itself during the early years of the last decade. It wasn’t until the release of FIFA 15 in 2014 that the PC version used all the EA Sports Ignite engine bells and whistles that were present on PS4 and Xbox One.
(It’s quite funny to look back at EA’s marketing speak when it talked about how Ignite would improve FIFA: it would give players “human-like intelligence”, “10 times greater animation fidelity” and more accurate environments. plus ça change…)
Even before then, for a number of years the PC version of the massive-selling series lacked the features found in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 version, although parity was achieved with FIFA 12. Now, of course, all versions of FIFA use the Frostbite engine.
So, FIFA 21 is coming to PC, as we expected, and – yay! – it’s coming to Steam, too. But the version of the game headed to the PC is not the one some wanted – even if it’s the one most PC gamers will be able to play.
Perhaps we’ll have to wait for FIFA 22 or even FIFA 23 before there’s parity again.